Εικόνες σελίδας
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

from ideas and impressions; that all our arguments concerning causes and effects, consist both of an impression of the memory or senses, and of the idea of that existeuce, which produces the object of the impression, or is produced by it. " He asserts, that it is impossible to distinguish the memory and imagination; that the belief or assent which always attends the memory and senses, is nothing but the vivacity of those perceptions they present; that the necessity which makes two times two equal to four, or the three angles of a triangle equal to two right ones, lies only in the act of the understanding, by which we compare these ideas; and that in like manner, the necessity or power which unites causes and effects, lies in the determination of the mind to pass from the one to the other, Mr. Hume maintains, that any thing may produce any thing, creation, annihilation, motion, reason, volition, &c. defines reason to be nothing but a wonderful and unintelligible instinct in our souls, which carries us along a certain train of ideas, and endows them with particular qualities, according to their particular situations and relations. He asserts, that all our reasonings concerning causes and effects, are derived from nothing but custom; and belief is inore properly an act of the sensitive, than of the cogitative part of our nature. Finally, to hasten to the conclusion of this list of absurdities, he asserts, that the doctrine of the immateriality, simplicity, and indivisibility of a thinking substance is true atheism, and will serve to justify all the sentiments, for which Spinoza is so universally infamous; that we have no idea of self or personal identity; that the true idea of the human mind, is to consider it as a system of different perceptions or different existences, which are linked together by the relation of cause and effect, and mutually produce, destroy, influence, and modify each other; that identity depends on the relations of ideas; and these relations produce identity, by means of that easy transition they occasion; and lastly, he defines belief to be a lively idea associated to a present impression." Was ever such a chaos of absurdity, such a despicable jargon attempted to be imposed upon the world, under the respectable name of philosophy! And this too in a writer, who in his metaphysical disquisitions had promised the literary world, “ to throw some light upon subjects, from which uncertainty had hitherto deteěred the wise, and obscurity the ignorant,” to unite the boundaries of the different species of philosophy, by reconciling profound inquiry with clearness, and truth with novelty, and “to banish all that jargon, which has so long taken possession of metaphysical reasonings, and drawn such disgrace upon them.” He says himself, of the Treatise of Human Nature, that it fell still-born from the press, and was not called into life, until buoyed up into notice, by his next publication, its more fortunate brother; and it would have been better for it, if it had been allowed by the literary world, to make its peaceful exit unnoticed and unknown, than to have been ushered into light, only to drag out a miserable existence, with a distempered constitution and a crazy brain; and at the same time uttering a language blasphemous and confused, to expose it to the contempt and enmity of both God and man. Happy would it be for this author, if those portions of his works which relate to metaphysics, to morals and religion, could be erased. His reputation would then be untarnished, and his name descend to future ages, with unsullied and continually increasing honours,

I shall conclude my account of perception, with the sys. tem of Dr. Reid. As this writer has taken such liberty with the doctrines of the philosophers who preceded him, we are prepared to anticipate from his researches, some great improvement and some extraordinary discovery. Let us put this matter to a fair test, and see what merit he is entitled to, on so interesting a branch of metaphysical science. We have seen that the charge is unfounded, which he alleged against the philosophers of maintaining that in perception, besides the object perceived, the mind that perceives, and the perception of the mind, there is a fourth thing called an idea, image or representative, and which alone is perceived by the mind. Having freed the philosophers from this accusation, of consequence, the merit to which he lays claim of having detected their error, and brought mankind back from the illusions of hypothesis to nature and common sense, is not justly his due. Let us now examine the doctrine, which he himself has broached and endeavoured to establish. I am happy, however, now to have it in my power to bestow another degree of praise upon so learned and respectable a writer. If I cannot allow him the merit of originality on this subject, inasmuch as I am entirely satisfied, that when he supposes himself combatting the principles of Mr. Locke, he is, in truth supporting his doctrines, and where he departs from his track, he wanders into the paths of error; I do not hesitate to admit, that he has con tributed to throw no inconsiderable light upon the subject of perception, as well as other points of metaphysical science. No one could be certain, that he would have been able so clearly to understand these matters, or even the doctrines of Mr. Locke, unless he had enjoyed the advantage of Dr. Reid's treatises. We have seen, that the doctrine of Mr. Locke is, that when any object is presented to us, through the instrumentality of the organs of sense, and the action of bodies upon them by means of their several mediums, we have sensations or perceptions of their qualities, and at the same time a conviction founded on what he calls the testimony of the senses, of the existence of those objects. Let us see the opinion of Dr. Reid on this point, and in what respect he has attempted to improve upon the system of Locke. “When I smell a rose,” says he, “there is in this operation both sensation and perception. The agreeable odour I feel, considered by itself, without relation to any external object, is merely a sensation. It affects the mind in a certain way; and this affection of the mind may be conceived without a thought of the rose or any other object. This sensation can be nothing else than it is felt to be. Its very essence consists in being felt; and wher, it is not felt, it is not. There is no difference between the sensation, and the feeling of it, they are one and the same thing. It is for this reason that we before observed, that, in sensation, there is no object distinct from that act of the mind by which it is felt; and this holds true with regard to all sensations. quently recurs to it, “ Sensation,” says he,“ taken by itself, implies neither the conception nor belief of any external object. It supposes a sentient being, and a certain manner in which that being is affected, but it supposes no more.

Let us next attend to the perception which we have in smelling a rose. Perception has always an external object, and the object of my perception in this case, is that quality in the rose which I discern by the sense of smell. Observing that the agreeable sensation is raised when the rose is near, and ceases when it is removed, I am led by my nature to conclude some quality to be in the rose, which is the cause of this sensation. This quality in the rose is the object perceived; and that act of the mind, by which I have the conviction and belief of this quality is what, in this case, I call perception.” In the distinction here made between sensation and perception, and in analizing that complex operation of the mind, which takes place in our converse with the external world, consists what may be considered as the discovery of Dr. Reid, upon which he evidently builds no small claims to merit, and which we see his follower Professor Stewart, speaking of in terms of high panegyric. Dr. Reid himself, speaking on this subject, says—“ I shall conclude this chapter by observing, that as the confounding our sensations with that perception of external objects, which is constantly conjoined with them, has been the occasion of most of the errors and false theories of philosophers, with regard to the senses; so the distinguishing these operations seems to me to be the key, that leads to a right understanding of both.” He is so fond of this distinction, that he free

[ocr errors]

Perception implies an immediate conviction and belief of something external; something different both from the mind that perceives, and from the act of perception, Things so different in their nature, ought to be distinguished; but by our constitution they are always united. Every different perception is conjoined with a sensation that is proper to it. The one is the sign, the other the thing signified. They coalesce in our imagination. They are signified by one name, and are considered as one simple operation. The purposes of life do not require them to be distinguished. It is the philosopher alone who has occasion to distinguish them, when he would analyze the operation compounded of them. But he has no suspicion that there is any composition in it; and to discover this requires a degree of reflection, which has been too little practised even by philosophers.”

After broaching this theory, which was undoubtedly before unknown to the schools, how could Mr. Stewart speak in the following terms of Dr. Reid's doctrine about perception? It would really appear, as if he had not sufficiently studied the works of his master to understand them. “But although Dr. Reid has been at much pains to overturn the old ideal system, he has not ventured to substitute any hypothesis of his own in its place. And, indeed, he was too well acquainted with the limits prescribed to our philosophical inquiries, to think of indulging his curiosity in such unprofitable speculations. All, therefore, that he is to be understood as aiming at, in his inquiries concerning our perceptive powers, is to give a precise state of the fact, devested of all theoretical expressions, in order to prevent philosophers from imposing on then selves any longer, by words without meaning, and to extort from them an acknowledg

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »